12 Feb 2023

In Conversation with Ed Burstell

Ed Burstell & Olivia Pinnock. Photo: Aidan Synnott

As the retail industry moves on from its pandemic recovery phase, the appetite for expansion continues to develop. What can you do to prepare for business growth in the current economic environment? 


Entrepreneur Ed Burstell talked with Fashion Journalist Olivia Pinnock live at Pure London about this, drawing from his extensive retail experience, from Senior Vice President of Product Innovation at Neiman Marcus to Liberty’s Managing Director.


He started his career at Macy’s completely by accident, but soon realised that he was really good at selling and never looked back. Over the span of his career, he has worked with the most renowned department stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman.


“What I love about retail is that it changes, and you need to change with it to keep it fresh.”


Today Burstell works as an independent retail and beauty consultant. He emphasises the importance of having a vision and keeping it all together, giving the example of a department store with a consistent aesthetic that can be perceived across different floors.


When asked what skills are needed to succeed in retail, he said that more and more it’s all about figures which is a shame, as businesses are less daring in terms of taking risks. But the million-dollar question is how to break through the American market, and for this it’s important to do some homework beforehand, understanding the difference in communication styles between the US and the UK.


“No large American department store is going to do your social media for you. Brands must be storytellers as well as the retailers. That’s the way forward.”


Regarding British brands, Burstell mentions Charlotte Tilbury and Jo Malone, as brands with a consistent vision over time. He also identifies Burberry as a brand with a strong storytelling narrative, as they know who they are but keep reinventing themselves. 


“If the collection in one season looks completely different than the collection before, you’re not going to build a consistent customer base. You can keep what you consider your signature going and bring people forward with it.”


He distinguishes the business approach of British versus American, one much more driven by creativity while the other with a stronger commercial focus. “When these two come together magic happens.”



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